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US Delegation Asks Haiti to Stem Exodus - 2003-01-27


Members of a U.S. congressional delegation are warning that protracted instability and chaos in Haiti could provoke an exodus of illegal immigrants. The delegation just returned from the Caribbean nation.

Florida Senator Bill Nelson was among four American lawmakers who spent two-days in Port-au-Prince, meeting with President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haitian lawmakers and average citizens.

Senator Nelson said the trip left him more concerned than ever about Haiti's future. He said Haiti is suffering a festering political crisis, economic stagnation, and rampant lawlessness. He said the consequences will ultimately be felt in the United States.

"The legal migration [from Haiti] into Florida, which gives us a vibrant Haitian-American community is about 12-14,000 people a year. The number [of Haitians] picked up by the Coast Guard and returned last year was about 1,200. Those numbers are going to increase unless we can do something about the political and economic reforms in Haiti," Senator Nelson said.

During the past 15 years, Haitians have taken to the sea by the tens-of-thousands, with hopes of reaching U.S. shores. Fears of a new mass exodus grew late last year, when about 200 would-be Haitian immigrants jumped off a freighter that had pulled up to an island off Miami.

Members of the congressional delegation said that, during their trip, they pressed President Aristide to enact political reforms and to make a concerted effort to end a stand-off with the country's opposition.

The Haitian leader has been quoted recently as saying that the international community must be patient while his country works to consolidate its fragile democracy. Mr. Arisitide has also complained about cuts in foreign aid to Haiti, the poorest nation in the Americas.

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